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Sophomore Takes On Peru for Spanish Study

September 20th, 2010

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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PHC sophomore Laura Fennig signals "V for victory" after an intense climb to the peak of Laguna 69, near Huaraz, Peru

Standing on the shore of a clear, blue lake at the top of Laguna 69, a 4,600-meter mountain near Huaraz, Peru, Patrick Henry College sophomore Laura Fennig formed the “V for victory” sign with her fingers and posed for the camera held by an English girl who had made the hike with her and her Peruvian companions. Tourists to the beautiful, outdoorsy area often reported dizziness and headaches at that elevation, but not Fennig. She didn’t know she was supposed to feel ill, she recalls, so she didn’t. As with most of her endeavors, she was in it for the adventure.

Such an approach to life characterized Fennig’s entire summer. Deciding that she needed to refresh her three years of high-school Spanish in order to pass the intermediate foreign language proficiency test at PHC, she began looking for opportunities. Her aunt and uncle, who are missionaries in Africa, knew other missionaries in Peru, who in turn knew people who lived and worked in Huaraz. Before long, Fennig made contact with an organization, Arco Iris, that works with street boys in Huaraz and runs two orphanages, as well as a textile mill and a bakery for mothers. So she packed herself off to Peru.

Fennig with a few of the Peruvian orphans she helped "wrangle" this summer

“When I flew into Lima, I didn’t know until that evening how I would get to Huaraz,” she laughs. “An American lady in Huaraz helped me figure out how to get on the bus.”

At Huaraz, she helped “wrangle” small children at the orphanages, taking them on outings to the park down the street. She enjoyed stepping out of her comfort zone and learning more about how others live, eating a lot of rice and potatoes and immersing herself in the language and culture. And she also visited Cuzco and Machu Picchu, old Incan sites, an almost obligatory pilgrimage for Peruvian visitors.

As for her language proficiency goals, Fennig wasn’t prepared for the peculiarities of the local dialect. “They apparently speak ‘hillbilly’ Spanish in Peru, dropping consonants and such,” jokes Fennig, repeating a term shared by another native Spanish speaker. “Definitely at first, I wondered, ‘Laura, what have you gotten yourself into?’”

Huaraz, Peru

But Fennig loves adventure and new experiences and adapted easily to Peru’s unexpected quirks and occasional hardships. She thinks nothing, she says, of jumping into a car alone and taking long road trips, and had traveled to Mexico when she was younger. Fennig also enjoys a range of diverse and curious interests. She can juggle, play the violin, cello, bass guitar, and guitar, as well as sing. She learned the bass guitar, for instance, when the bridge on her cello collapsed just before a concert with the band she played in back home in Indiana.

“One of my friends said I should try the bass guitar instead, so I did,” explains Fennig, who did already play the regular guitar. It worked out just fine.

At PHC, Fennig has decided to major in Government: International Politics and Policy (IPP). And while she is unsure at this point what she wants to do after graduation, she embraces the adventure ahead much like she did her summer in Peru.

The process of exploration and discovery excites her, and she is always ready to seize the day.

“I would like to try an internship with an American embassy overseas, if possible,” she says. “You can have ideas, but you don’t know what works and what doesn’t until you get more experience.”